Posted by: Ben | September 23, 2008

Lighting the Dark Fiber

This semester, I have a lot of reading material for my four classes, plus one audit class. In addition, I have two research projects and my own independent reading that I do.

So I’m coping by doing a lot of skimming and fast reading. Last year I learned which stuff is important to read carefully and which stuff is just boilerplate agency-speak.

And it occurred to me while sitting in class today that what I’m really looking for when I read are connections between ideas and facts. And what I really get excited about are bridge ideas or facts that open up whole new networks of information.

Then I started to draw a network diagram on my notes, conceiving of a big node of knowledge that I have explored already (counter-terrorism) and lots of smaller nodes linked from it, like my experiences in Iraq, books about Zarqawi, the Scheuer class, articles from my IR theory class on terrorism.

Some links will bridge across two worlds, like terrorism and politics. There are a lot of large knowledge nodes in my head now for the topical areas I’ve worked in and studied in my 30+ years.

I don’t seek to memorize all the facts within those nodes. I want to keep exploring into new webs of nodes, into new areas of knowledge. I imagine exploring through a cave, finding new tunnels that lead to large caverns and openings back to the outside, with the outside being a metaphor for my overall, general worldview.

I just want connections. I want to discover new fields of study. I want to map it all out, so that I know how to get back to it, should I need it.

And it occurred to me that search engines on the internet are not particularly good at helping you explore a new network. It can take a while to learn who the major leaders in a field are, who the chief researchers are, what the competing arguments are, etc.

And then I started thinking about the anthropograph, and how I would like to see a network analysis of large nodes for the most well-known, well-connected people like Albert Einstein or John Locke or Jesus, and see who the major nodes are linking from them. I’m sure this has already been done to a large degree.

What I really want is something like Facebook where I can click on tabs corresponding to different fields, like economics or sports, and then see who in my friend network are the most important, most knowledgeable, most well-connected — i.e. the biggest nodes — out of them all.

The network would look different based on which field view I was looking at. Some people of course would be larger nodes in many different field views.

I want to graph the people Malcolm Gladwell would call the mavens and early adopters. I want to do far more than just “Facebook friend” someone.

I want to explore previously darkened nodal networks and map them out.

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